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Thread: Story Conventions from other countries

  1. #1
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    Story Conventions from other countries

    I may phrase this poorly, so cut me a little slack...

    I've observed certain cultures and subcultures around the world *tend* to, (not always) have some story conventions that are not compatible with say, what makes "mainstream" storytelling in another country.

    I also admit as a fan of worldwide stories I *love* inserting story conventions from the country I'm writing about. I'm likely to pick up some French story conventions when writing a story set in France with French characters. Or Japanese story conventions when writing a story in Japan. (I admit to cherry picking but people from their own countries also cherry pick.)

    Anyone have a list of some story conventions that aren't typical in what's advised as what makes literature, literature (lower case intended) in the American mind?

    My List (so far):
    - Some people hate the open endings on Japanese stories.
    - "Info dump" at the beginning of trad. Chinese stories. (In some old mainland dramas, it's really thick.)
    - The constant poetic endings of Korean stories. (Mostly folktales).
    - Korean love stories *used* to end with long separations as the final proof of love, which I know drive people in the West crazy *cough* End of Goong Manhwa. Though I can tick off more traditional literature too. The long separation is still a convention in Korean dramas.
    - I've seen a complaint that Magic Realism was a Mexican? story telling style... that was kinda commandeered by the American public??
    - In Indian films, the format (older than the current one) didn't follow the three-act play. Sometimes there wasn't even a sense of a beginning middle and end in the Western sense. I really liked it... and tried to copy it a bit.
    - Some West African folktales have this kind of cadence to the language and the language selection I really, really like. (Listening both in native and translated.)
    - I LOVE Japanese slice of life, which is slow, methodical, detail-oriented, and never cuts to the chase too fast. It builds slowly to the "main story" but then by the end you realize that the beginning was the beginning after all. (Princess Kaguya. Or Peach Boy has this structure. I've been in love with it since I was a child.)

    I also realize that sometimes language use can be stacked against people too. I have a few hang ups from once being fluent in a language I can't fully remember anymore.

    Shouldn't an editor when asking for PoC fiction be aware of this type of thing? Also I'd love to see that list above expanded. What other storytelling conventions may an average editor not be aware of?
    Last edited by Rachel Udin; 05-24-2013 at 06:05 PM.

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    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    Well, older Turkish fairytales had many elements of magical realism in them. For example someone being able to take their eye out and throw it through someone's window so they can spy on them and then retrieve the eye back and put it back in the eye socket like nothing happened would be totally normal (not to mention geenies, giants and fairies/nature spirits etc being totally normal.) Also, it would be fair to mention that Turkish, Arab, Greek and Persian fairytales borrow heavily from each other.

    Currently, extreeeeeme melodrama is in vogue in Turkish soap operas (and hence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East) I just suffered through a 10 minute slow-motion of a father who just got out of prison after 20 years (of course he was falsely accused) meeting his mentally disabled son for the first time (the son is 20 and is retarded and has been bullied by neighborhood children for a long time) So......... basically imagine dramatic over the top music with close-up reaction shots of both men and the family members back and forth, the son is crying and going "Daddy! My daddy is here!" and the dad was never told that the son is retarded so there is this tension of... 'will this man who's been incarcerated with hardened criminals for 20 years be able to accept this son??' and then his face finally cracks into a smile, he drops his satchel and opens his arms wide and the son rushes into his arms and everyone else in the village is watching on and crying aaaaand yeah... 10 minutes. I can guarantee you American audiences would be freaking out but Turkish/Middle Eastern/Eastern European audiences lap up this emotional porn like it's ice cream!

    It's really interesting to hear about story-telling conventions of other cultures!! I want to hear more examples from everyone else!

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    Red fish, blue fish... J.S.F.'s Avatar
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    That...was a long read.

    Okay, cutting to the bottom part, the question about the editor maybe not knowing what to look for, my answer may offend you or some others here, but my feeling is that many Western editors--depending on the genre--probably want something that moves at a reasonable to fast pace.

    This may not allow for too much building up to the climax or realization of the story, and it also may not allow for all the details to be put in. While you may think it's essential, they may think it's an information dump. Worse, they might think it's plain poor writing.

    Now, poor writing is not necessarily the case, but they might think it is. I don't have a problem with reading Japanese literature with all the slow-paced descriptions and whatnot, but then again I'm sort of used to it having lived in Japan for a long time. I'm particularly fond of Japanese cinema which tends to have character determine action vs action determining character as most Western movies do.

    I won't comment on Korean or Chinese novels as I haven't read any. I've only read some Chinese folk tales translated into English and they were pretty entertaining. But I think--and I may be off-base here--that Western editors would want the plotline to move along faster than what the rich description would allow.

    JMO...

    (If I AM wrong, someone please correct me).

  4. #4
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachel Udin View Post
    I've seen a complaint that Magic Realism was a Mexican? story telling style... that was kinda commandeered by the American public??
    This one is idiotic and gets on my nerves. Yes, there are many critics who believe that "magic realism" simply means "fantasy written by Latin American authors".

    I disagree. It's as stupid as saying any stories involving giant robots is automatically co-opting a fundamentally Japanese genre. It's also ignoring the genre differences between fantasy and magic realism.

    Now in practice, I do think any magic realism writer will be strongly influenced by Latin American and Japanese authors (for some reason, the critics seem to forget about the Japanese magic realism authors and only remember the Latin American ones), simply because so many of the best examples of the genre have been written by authors from these cultures.

    But that's quite a different claim.

    It's certainly something I think about myself when writing magic realism for an American audience. I'm not published yet, so I've no idea how successful I'll actually be.

    Quote Originally Posted by lolchemist View Post
    Well, older Turkish fairytales had many elements of magical realism in them. For example someone being able to take their eye out and throw it through someone's window so they can spy on them and then retrieve the eye back and put it back in the eye socket like nothing happened would be totally normal (not to mention geenies, giants and fairies/nature spirits etc being totally normal.) Also, it would be fair to mention that Turkish, Arab, Greek and Persian fairytales borrow heavily from each other.
    ETA: In thinking about it, that does suggest an interesting conclusion to me. Any supernatural fiction arising from cultures for whom folk beliefs are deeply ingrained and interwoven into the culture will probably resemble magic realism when viewed through a Western lens. Take myths from any culture around the world and re-tell it in a modern voice, and it'll probably look like magic realism. This includes Christianity. To this extent, we can use this to develop a definition of magic realism as a genre of modern-day folklore, which — as a magic realism author — I find to be a fascinating and curiously appropriate definition.

    ETA2: In fact, I think one could say the demarcation of the speculative fiction genres in general may only make sense at all when viewed from a secular, Western perspective. To a person who believes in ghosts and witches, a story that involves ghosts and witches isn't a "fantasy" or "magic realism" story. It's simply a story.
    Last edited by kuwisdelu; 05-23-2013 at 10:42 AM.

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    Penúltimo maxmordon's Avatar
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    I remember a Japanese writer commenting once that, on how the stories are told, the American style was a straigt arrow, the Japanese was a long bow and the Latin American one was a zig-zag.

    I think one could say the demarcation of the speculative fiction genres in general may only make sense at all when viewed from a secular, Western perspective. To a person who believes in ghosts and witches, a story that involves ghosts and witches isn't a "fantasy" or "magic realism" story. It's simply a story.
    I like that concept of magic realism, Kuwi. I believe it's pretty fitting: The idionsynchrastic view of a society on life, where forces beyond our comprehension are left ambiguous. I mean, I have no doubt Gabriel García Márquez sees his work closer to Mark Twain's and William Faulkner's than, say, Lord Dunsany's and Lewis Carroll's. I think Latin American magic realism is noteworthy also because it evolves from another noteworthy artistic movement, namely Costumbrismo and was later opposed by figures like Chilean Roberto Bolaño and others.

    I mean, my late grandfather believed in forest sprites that would poison the food stuff of lumberjacks and those who harm the nature and my late great-grandmother would repeat me that Virgin Mary granted her the hability to see buried jars full of golden coins left from the time of the civil wars.

    That said, Gabriel García Márquez once said the US regarded Latin America as a mustachioed man with a revolver on hand, but I think he didn't exactly struggle against this image. I believe Latin American magic realism has a folksy element that many of my parents' and my generation have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it's deeply built from our traditions and unique perspectives, but on the other hand, even if it's part of who I am and what surrounds me, it's not all of it. I didn't grew up in a small town full of adobe houses with ghosts and legends around every corner, I grew up in a small city full of liquor stores and street vendors with buzzing streetposts and stray dogs on every corner.

    I think the main difference in Latin American style is that it lacks that Show Vs. Tell struggle present in English-speaking literature. Entire books have been writing only by Telling and nobody minds as long is done good. I remember when I started reading novels in English and the first American novel was Catcher in the Rye, I believe, when when I was 17 and thought it was a rather dry on narration until I caught up with Hemingway and Vonnegut that this was commonplace on American literature and was one of my main problems while trying to write in English since Iwould thought how, say, Borges would write.

    Also, Latin American writers tend to be somewhat more melodramatic or at least melodrama is better regarded with crooks and prostitutes being forced to do wrong in order to be right and how vice is inherit to people and society. This is especially noteworthy in newer novels and films but was present in older ones as well, just in a less realistic manner.

    Lastly, there are more writers than write short stories than actual novels. This, I suspect, is due traditionally longer books meant that they were more expensive and harder to be widespread. So one sees far more anthologies than in the English-speaking literature and some writers like Borges wrote exclusively short stories. I believe this is related to the purple prose I mentioned before. For example, Rómulo Gallegos, considered the greatest Venezuelan writer is pretty much only read by literatos since most people find his style unbearable while his short stories are far better fitting for his style. By the way, his novel Doña Bárbara is available by the Chicago University Press in English.
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  6. #6
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maxmordon View Post
    I remember when I started reading novels in English and the first American novel was Catcher in the Rye, I believe, when when I was 17 and thought it was a rather dry on narration until I caught up with Hemingway and Vonnegut that this was commonplace on American literature and was one of my main problems while trying to write in English since Iwould thought how, say, Borges would write.
    Emulating Borges' story-telling was one of the formative steps in developing my own voice and style.

    I admit I am unfortunately much less well-read when it comes to other Latin American authors.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Emulating Borges' story-telling was one of the formative steps in developing my own voice and style.

    I admit I am unfortunately much less well-read when it comes to other Latin American authors.
    Don't worry, I think I have read more British than American writers and mostly have tried to read the must-reads (The Great Catsby, A Confederacy of Fools, Elmer Gantry, etc.) so I haven't had a broad US cultural exposure.

    The one Japanese author I have read is Yukio Mishima, by the way.

    I think you might enjoy Roberto Bolaño

    "That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said: What I mean is the secret story.... The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realize that's a lie."
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    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maxmordon View Post
    The one Japanese author I have read is Yukio Mishima, by the way.
    I only know of him due to his death and the Philip Glass string quartet about him. Haven't read his stuff.

    I think you might enjoy Roberto Bolaño
    What's his stuff like?

    Lately I'm preferring novels that don't have a ton of characters nor span sprawling periods of time, which is why I've had trouble getting into Marquez's longer works.

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    There is also the popular "Time Slip" of East Asian TV shows and literature.

    Time travel, to me, is more like, there is a machine, or an exact visible portal you have to go through to get there. And you have control over it. So now, you have to worry about rules and limiters to this time travel.

    Time slip also tends to feature non-circular, non-linear endings using string theory (though it predates string theory).

    I tend to like it because it usually carefully is set up to bend one's mind. Also, that the time travel is sudden, unintentional by any party, and is left to an event/place. It also tends to be highly detail-oriented.

    Critics hate it because there are what they think are "paradoxes" and they think this cancels it out. When Il Mare was made into Lake House, for example and brought to the US, critics hated on Lake House a lot for the "paradoxes" not thinking once that maybe it wasn't a paradox at all.

    So I think this features how East Asian cultures tend to think of time. Philosophically, I think it's interesting.

  10. #10
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachel Udin View Post
    There is also the popular "Time Slip" of East Asian TV shows and literature.
    Can you elaborate on this one?

    I think I may be using doing this.

    I have two parallel narratives, told by the same character in the past and the present. There's a connection between the two times, and the past and present and up interacting due to an emotional attachment. The link between the past and present is set off by particular important locations and objects, but they're not machines and there are no portals. There's also a character who is hinted to be from the future, but I don't plan to state this explicitly, or explain how he got to the present timeline. He's there because he has things he needs to do there. There are also scenes that take place outside of time.

    There are no rules regarding time or time paradoxes, but there are rules regarding what a person can do (that basically boil down to "there's no free lunch; you can't have your cake and eat it, too").

    ...

    A particular habit I'm getting into is to try to simultaneously narrate two parallel scenes that are thematically linked and share dramatic arcs but are separated in time, oftentimes taking place in the same location, with swift scene cuts back and forth between the two times.
    Last edited by kuwisdelu; 05-24-2013 at 07:00 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I only know of him due to his death and the Philip Glass string quartet about him. Haven't read his stuff.
    When I was 10 I saw the movie based on his life and I felt related to the childhood scenes: A weak and silent boy with a rich internal world aiming for a release. The dissonance of word and action...

    Funny enough, Mishima was also gay and wrote about it (Confessions of a Mask) but felt instead his sexuality was been classified in a Western manner. He also was insanely nationalistic and obsessed with suicide, to the point he wanted to overthrown the Emperor (the actual person) to save the Emperor (the ideal).

    Lately I'm preferring novels that don't have a ton of characters nor span sprawling periods of time, which is why I've had trouble getting into Marquez's longer works.
    Mmm. I have actually tried looking around to find an acceptable simile, especially since I have only read his short stories. Some people see him as a modern and hip Borges, I don't but I can tell why they see that.

    For example, one of the short stories of his that I read was a Catholic priest's confession, telling his life from meeting leftist poet Neruda to instructing Pinochet about what is Marxism and befriending a regular middle-class couple who just happen to turture political prisoners on their basement while having cocktail parties with literary pretensions upstairs. A more clear Borgesian parallel is that book that is nothing but a fake encyclopedia for imaginary right-wing/fascist/neo-nazi writers in the Americas to Borges' own bestiary of imaginary animals and History of the Infamy.

    I have read some reviewers around who compare him to Muramaki, and I asked my friend, who is an editor and have read novels by both, and told told me they couldn't be more different. For her, Bolaño may appear closer to Kerouac and his road novels and trying to find meaning and creating art where there's none, such is the theme of The Savage Detectives, which is a fictionalized accounts that dwells into dream logic and the absurd about Bolaño's (named in the novel Arturo Belano) exploits as a poet in 70's Mexico. But, as you said, too many characters and time periods.

    Who I can compare him? Probably to Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace and the post-modernist streak, and probably the most noteworthy author in the last three decades or so. After all, García Márquez's last book was universally reviled and Vargas Llosa is not getting any younger...

    By the way, have you read No One Writes To The Colonel? Is one of El Gabo's earliest and simplier novels. Although is pretty much devoid of Magic Realism.
    Last edited by maxmordon; 05-25-2013 at 12:15 PM.
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    Penúltimo maxmordon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Can you elaborate on this one?
    I'm curious as well, would you count Slaughterhouse-5 as a Western example? I'm reading it at the moment and I'm fascinating by its coherent lack of chronology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Can you elaborate on this one?

    I think I may be using doing this.

    I have two parallel narratives, told by the same character in the past and the present. There's a connection between the two times, and the past and present and up interacting due to an emotional attachment. The link between the past and present is set off by particular important locations and objects, but they're not machines and there are no portals. There's also a character who is hinted to be from the future, but I don't plan to state this explicitly, or explain how he got to the present timeline. He's there because he has things he needs to do there. There are also scenes that take place outside of time.

    There are no rules regarding time or time paradoxes, but there are rules regarding what a person can do (that basically boil down to "there's no free lunch; you can't have your cake and eat it, too").

    ...

    A particular habit I'm getting into is to try to simultaneously narrate two parallel scenes that are thematically linked and share dramatic arcs but are separated in time, oftentimes taking place in the same location, with swift scene cuts back and forth between the two times.
    To me, there are two major features of time slip v. time travel.

    1. There is no controllable way to get to the past or the future.

    Often the character just "happens" upon it by accident and has no idea how to return or when they will return. It's like time is a slippery substance they just tripped over one day. There is no long explanation why it works, it just does. You don't know for how long either.

    For example in Lake House and Il Mare the maibox just happens to connect to the past but neither character knows how. Or the radio happens to connect to the past. Or these incense sticks just happen to have magic. That can fade at any time, and you aren't sure what the rules are if there are any, you just know what's happening. You're communicating/living in the past. And often you don't know why or when it is happening, it's *bam* it ended up like that.

    The character may figure it out, much, much later how it happened, but again, they don't have much control and there is very little explanation on why it happens that way or why that spot. (which is an American obsession, I've noticed.)

    2. The timeline (though there are variations) tends to work on string theory. This roughly looks like a branching effect.

    So every decision you make makes a fork in a tree. You went the road less followed, well another you went the path much traveled.

    You who was going to communicate with the past--well there is one that did not.

    And so on, you get a tree trunk with branches and twigs.

    When you make a decision, the other decisions you could have made never disappeared, they just went into a parallel dimension.

    So for the time traveler, the time traveler is merely traveling down to, say a major branch intersection and creating a new branch of time. Their branch of time isn't getting eliminated, so if they could travel to their own branch of time back up the leaf/twig level, it would still exist.

    In this fashion there are no paradoxes, everything exists *separately* so there is no contradiction. It's just another dimension in which the time traveler traveled back in time and created a new branch.

    3. Sometimes done, and sometimes not... the nonlinear aspect.

    Nonlinear aspect, I noticed is a bit more popular in Japanese stories than the Chinese version of time slip, which tends to be fatalistic and more linear. Korean kinda cuts between the two (and American style occasionally)

    You might have things play out of sequence when the time travel happens.

    So you might get flashes of the person's past, you might have the time travel seem to be out of sequence, you might find that the object or the person doing the traveling has changed history.

    There was another movie with Sandra Bullock, also hated by the critics where she was waking up for the week out of sequence. That's about as close to time slip as I've seen. That's classically something that I've also seen in Japanese stories. Meaning you have to catch the details to orient yourself in time. And no one explains it to you.

    I've found, though, that the fatalistic aspect is kinda split on stories. Chinese stories tend to favor it more... Indian ones too... South Korean is kinda split, and Japanese tends to favor the idea of destiny more. (own choices shape it.) for the ones I have consumed.

    What's interesting about Time Slip, is that it's often done for children's stories, comic books, etc. It's not considered adult or high literature like it would be in the US market. I find that a little disappointing, since I like the thought experiment involved. And since the countries have been doing it for so long, I've often found they've been working and working at it to the level that the average US consumer has trouble keeping up, not used to having to track the details, etc. The game in time slip often is those tiny details which leave clues to the ending, or an event they have to avoid. (Well demonstrated in Il Mare, Korean movie.)

    Quote Originally Posted by maxmordon View Post
    I'm curious as well, would you count Slaughterhouse-5 as a Western example? I'm reading it at the moment and I'm fascinating by its coherent lack of chronology.
    That's more non-linear than time slip which is also popular in Japan particularly, from my observation. Korea tends to avoid it, but I've seen a few writers play with it. And Chinese stories--I haven't encountered one yet. But I haven't read enough yet. I've seen enough, but my guess is no.

    Time slip still plays with the past and the present effects by establishing the present and then seeing what the repercussions of the time slip are/could be. (i.e. what's in the new branch.)

    I do think, though for a Western audience new to time slip (basics) the whole thing will seem nonlinear, but I think if you get the basics (No rules, branching theory), you'll find that it's not nonlinear, it's more parallel story telling and detail-oriented. Which isn't much different from telling one story in the past and one in the present in alternating chapters. It's just one is leaking into the other more creating possibilities one has to track to get the full scope of the story.

    Nonlinear time travel, such as in the Time Traveler's Wife... I would see that more favored in Japanese... though probably considered a little pedestrian....

    I *love* nonlinear storylines though. I've read a bunch of Japanese stories like that. Even some of the folktales read that way.

    Religion's ideas of time, fate, destiny, etc tend to show up in the treatment of time travel stories. So I love seeing how other cultures handle time travel, since it often questions moral and ethical issues, which gets to the religious philosophy on many levels. Time Slip I kinda see as a variation that's a bit more magic oriented.
    Last edited by Rachel Udin; 05-25-2013 at 07:05 PM.

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